Toronto Slate Fills With Questions About Movie Mood, Corporate Will & Demographic Justice


Putting aside any Oscar action, on which my colleague Pete Hammond has a close eye, the rapidly accumulating lineup for the 41st Toronto International Film Festival, set to run September 8-18, brings some twists, turns and potential intrigue to a fall film season that clearly has no intention of waiting for the fall to begin. The next wave of movies already is in motion, piling into one another, and into the problems and opportunities that keep an army of publicists and consultants employed.

Terry George

With Tuesday’s addition of Terry George’s The Promise, a love story set against the Armenian genocide, and Joseph Cedar’s Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, involving an Israeli prime minister, geopolitics — already prominent in Oliver Stone’s Snowden and such politically conscious documentaries as The Ivory Game and In Exile — moves even closer to the fore. It says so right there in Tuesday’s festival notes, which cite “geopolitics” in back-to-back blurbs about the George and Cedar films.

But a deeper and more complicated vibe surrounds the black-themed, -cast, and -directed films set to screen in Toronto. Weeks ago, it already was apparent that a dozen or more black-oriented films, including Fences and The Birth of a Nation, would figure in the fall season. Now, the Toronto slate has increased that count, especially in the documentary category. Demanding attention on its doc slate, for instance, are John Scheinfield’s Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary; Kasper Collin’s I Called Him Morgan, about trumpeter Lee Morgan; and Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, about James Baldwin and his unfinished work.

One challenge, going into the season, will be for the many black-oriented films to rise above commodity status, so that each can be considered on its own merits. Privately, film consultants lately have expressed fears that media types — eager to shift the prevailing narrative from last year’s, which stressed a dearth of black film — will be tempted to deal with these movies more as a demographic than a cinematic phenomenon. That could only cheat films like Queen of Katwe and A United Kingdom, both of which feature David Oyelowo and will have premiere showings in Toronto.

One film that won’t have that problem is Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation, which will have a special presentation in Toronto. Instead, Parker’s film will face a different sort of problem: Navigating public forums at which the media might want to rehash an old rape charge of which he was exonerated 15 years ago but which inevitably has entered the debate around his volatile, racially themed movie. How the press behaves, and how Parker responds, will be among the more powerful subplots in play at the festival.

How Paramount handles Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, an alien-encounter film with Amy Adams, will tell much about that studio’s will to overcome internal shakes over the legal struggles between those who own and oversee its parent company, Viacom. Only a few weeks ago, some of the filmmaking team behind Arrival feared that it would be held until next year, as Paramount, with a relatively full schedule, focused on Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, with Tom Cruise, and Allied, with Brad Pitt. But Arrival made the cut, and is set for a November 11 release, after showing in Toronto (and perhaps Telluride).

Left to my own designs, I probably would go straight to Jim Jarmusch’s documentary Gimme Danger, about The Stooges and Detroit industrial rock in the late 1960s. Iggy Pop writhed off with half my hearing at the Crow’s Nest West in 1969, and I’ve been trying to find it ever since.

But the bigger events — Peter Berg’s Deepwater Horizon, Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, Kelly Fremon Craig’s closing-night comedy The Edge of Seventeen — should tell more about the year’s movie mood and whether viewers are looking for laughs, tears, issues, answers, demographic justice or alien-assisted escape.

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